ACT to launch college and career testing for elementary school students

“Third grade is the ideal time to start children thinking about their future,” because although the plans and interests may change for some students, “for even more it will not,” said Opal Mobbs, computer lab manager at Fannin Elementary School in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Mobbs pointed to her personal experience as an example: Her son has known since the third grade that he wanted to be a video game designer, and although he has mentioned scientist and artist as other options, she emphasized that those fields go along with video game design.

Still, Mobbs cautioned, “I would not want my child to feel like he is being boxed in to a particular field; I want him to explore all options that appeal to him.”

Mobbs suggested that the best timeline for college and career assessment would be to begin testing in “third grade and then every two years after until graduation from high school.”

In contrast, higher-education expert John Bennett strongly disapproved of beginning testing in early elementary school.

“I am at a loss to understand this testing. First, I think careers should align with passion, not with what some test suggests. Second, I believe behavior skills are best observed (and addressed) by parents/family and teachers,” Bennett, an emeritus professor and associate dean of engineering at the University of Connecticut, wrote in an eMail.

He said elementary students instead should focus on basic skills such as reading, writing, problem solving, and teamwork.

“Such college prep, if you want to call it that (I’d suggest “life prep”), should be obvious without any testing,” he wrote.

Colby disagreed with critics’ concerns that the new system will push young students into specific career paths prematurely.

“The whole idea is not to label students,” he said, “but to identify what they want to do … [and to] show them the types of careers that match their interests.”

The tragedy of current education is that students sometimes reach the end of senior year in high school and say, “Gee, I’d like to be a nurse,” but “if they haven’t been preparing for that, getting the kind of grades they need, it’s too late,” Colby said.

He said this new system could help students interested in health careers, for instance, realize they need to take more advanced coursework in science and math.

“It’s all about providing the information; they make the decisions. It’s all about how they use the information to get to the goals they’d like to reach,” Colby said.

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